Posted in News About Ellie, on 30 March 2016, by , 0 Comments



Ellie’s Bus is a bright orange ‘78 Volkswagen camper van. There’s a Scooby-Doo decal on one side and Shaggy’s cheeky grin plastered across the other. Sixteen-year-old Ellie Leikin, of Severna Park, Maryland, didn’t mind the homage to ScoobyDoo’s Mystery Machine when she bought the minibus secondhand, but the fake eyelashes on the headlamps came off.

The camper van was a gift to Ellie from her parents on her 16th birthday and as a reward for making the National Honor Society. She researched the bus herself and fell in love with it. Larry Leikin, Ellie’s dad, warned her it wouldn’t be easy to drive; it was hydro-powered and had a dodgy shifter linkage – not the kind of car a teenager would normally go for. Ellie powered through and got the hang of driving the van; in fact, “she mastered it”, Larry told BuzzFeed.

On 29 November 2015 Ellie killed herself, leaving behind her parents, Larry and Sherry, her two siblings, and that bright orange bus. The only sign Ellie was thinking of ending her life came afterwards, when her parents found her diary, a “10-day journey leading up to her death”, according to her father.

While Ellie’s parents were familiar with depression and bipolar disorder, it was “something we never saw in her behaviour or actions”, the Leikins told BuzzFeed. “She wrote a lot about how she wanted to hide her depression from her friends and boyfriend.” The couple were shocked by the level of despair they read in their daughter’s writing: She knew she could ask them for help but she was making a choice not to.

After Ellie’s death, her parents set up a foundation in the hope of raising awareness for suicide prevention and mental health resources in their local area. They were struggling to come up with a name when Sherry’s brother suggested they call it “Ellie’s Bus”. Larry told BuzzFeed it felt like a good fit: “The bus is open, appealing, but not too in-your-face. It gives our cause an image, a physical manifestation of what we’re trying to do.” The Mystery Machine stickers are still there. For Sherry, the Scooby-Doo stickers tie into what they want to achieve: “We’re taking the mystery out of mental health.”

The bus will be stationed at a summer concert later this year to spread further awareness and educate young people. Larry told BuzzFeed: “We want to remove mental health stigma and show kids and teens that there is help and hope – the resources are there.” By taking the bus from place to place there’s a bigger chance for the vehicle to be “identified as a safe place to get information and ask for advice”.

In Hull, a city in the north of England, Dennis Graham set up a similar suicide awareness programme after his 17-year-old son Matt killed himself in 2010. “It took me three years to be able to talk about him without becoming a wreck,” Graham told BuzzFeed. He now delivers awareness sessions in schools, talking to young people about keeping themselves suicide-safe and looking out for each other. Still, Graham admitted, “My talks take 15 minutes and I seldom get through my script without a tear.”

Worldwide, a person kills themselves every 40 seconds. It is the second-biggest cause of death among teens in the US. In the UK every year between 600 and 800 young peoplebetween the ages of 15 and 24 take their own lives – a number equivalent to the population of a small secondary school.

Last year Joe Ferns, executive director of policy, research, and development for theSamaritans, said: “We need to see a greater focus at local and regional levels on the coordination and prioritisation of suicide prevention activity.”

Awareness isn’t just needed for at-risk teens but for parents and peers too. “It might not be the parents or teacher who notice something,” said Larry Leikin. “It may be a friend or a peer.” Graham said it’s important to “encourage dialogue, if not between the parent and their child but also with someone they trust or a charity like Papyrus”. In his talks, Graham often discusses the signs a suicidal teen might exhibit, such as emotional statuses on Facebook, giving away personal possessions, taking risks, excessive drinking, and a sudden lack in personal hygiene.

Back in Maryland, Ellie’s Bus is currently waiting out the winter in the Leikins’ garage. Larry and Sherry are both in therapy and taking the necessary steps to heal, as are their two other children: “We’re keeping as strong as we can for their sake, that’s our primary focus,” Larry says.

The friendly orange Volkswagen van remains a bittersweet reminder for them. “I’d give anything to not have to do this interview,” Larry said. “But since we’re here, we have to do the best we can.”

If you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide call HOPELineUK on 0800 068 41 41.

If you’re in the United States you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more information on Ellie’s Bus visit the website here.


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Posted in Awareness, on 25 March 2016, by , 0 Comments

March 23

The Washington Post

Editor’s note: We reached out to the author after her revealing obituary for her sister appeared in the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.

The most alone I have ever felt was standing on my front porch on a chilly February evening. My sister had taped a note to the front door that said “Eleni, if you’re the first one here don’t go in the basement. Just call 911. I don’t want you to see me like this. I love you! Love, Aletha.”

She put an identical sign on the back door.  Even in the midst of consuming depression, Aletha tried to protect me from the full horror of her suicide.

I stood on the porch shivering from cold and sheer terror. I didn’t just feel alone. I felt like I was in a vacuum in the middle of space with everything I knew being pulled away from me. The universe was suddenly a very vast place and I was very, very, very alone.

After what seemed like an eternity, the police officers told me plainly, “Aletha is dead.” What followed that stark statement was a sudden moment of lucidity in which only one thing mattered: the truth.

I had to be honest. I had to tell the truth.

By the time I sat down to write my sister’s obituary I knew that the opening line could only be one thing: Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth (formerly of Oswego and Chicago, IL) died from depression and suicide on February 20, 2016. 

I went on to share with everyone — friends, family, students, and work colleagues — the cause of my sister’s death: depression and suicide. I told them that my hilarious, kind, generous, helpful, silly and loving sister couldn’t see any of that in herself and it killed her. I told them that her depression created an impenetrable fortress that blocked the light, preventing the love of her friends, her family, and any sense of comfort and confidence from reaching her.

My loneliness and terror on the front porch was nothing compared to the absolute isolation that depression had imposed on my sister. I had to tell the truth.

Read the rest here…

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